Toronto’s an enormous city and many don’t know that it’s actually the 5th largest city in North America after Mexico City, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. There’s a ton to do across all 6 boroughs (hence we’re nicknamed the six) and despite having lived here for over 15 years now I definitely haven’t done it all. There are always events going on and new restaurants going up and without exaggerating I think you could easily spend 2 weeks in Toronto without getting bored but 3 days is a great taste of what the city has to offer in terms of food and sights and will you give you an opportunity to see what Toronto has to offer.
Day 1: Downtown Core & West End
Queen Street West is one of the hippest areas in Toronto and one that reflects the culture of Toronto perfectly so it makes for a great start to your first day. The area is full of restaurants and unique stores and is home to one of the best parks in Toronto (Trinity Bellwoods Park) and a collection of fantastic murals. The brunch scene in Toronto is fantastic and you’ll find a few great places to start your day with in the Queen Street West area. Early Bird Coffee and Kitchen is great if you want a sit down meal but go early because lineups are quite common for most of the Toronto brunch restaurants. If you don’t want a proper meal then there’s a number of local coffee shops to chose from if you just want to grab something to go. Start your exploring off with checking out some of the stores in the area. My favorites are Curiosa (a great shop of odd things that makes for great gifts), Crown Flora Studio (super beautiful flowers) and FloorPlay Socks (some super funky socks with great prints).
Make sure to take a look at the side of the buildings because Queen Street West has some of the best murals in Toronto and you’ll want to grab some pictures of these. Once you’ve digested some of your breakfast make sure to grab some ice cream because the area does have some of the best ice cream in Toronto. My absolute favorite is Bang Bang Ice Cream & Bakery but majority of the ice cream places in the neighborhood are delicious! To wrap up Queen Street West head to Trinity Bellwoods Park with your ice cream to relax and do some prime people watching!
After you’ve finished up with your ice cream continue onto Graffiti Alley which is further east on Queen Street. It’s one of the free things to do in Toronto which is great because the city can be on the more expensive side. Graffiti Alley is aptly named because it’s literally an alley filled with some of the greatest street art that Toronto has to offer. Make sure to get some pictures here and if you’re lucky you may even see a new piece being created!
Once you’ve gotten that great selfie with the murals you’ll end up in much China Town. Toronto’s China Town is one of the biggest in the world and you can definitely see some of the multicultural aspects of Toronto here. There are tons of shops and restaurants here so take your time looking around. If you’re looking to get some cheap souvenirs for friends/family then China Town is definitely the place to do it! While the restaurants in China Town may be tempting you’re going to want to save your appetite for your next stop.
A short 15 minute walk from China Town you’ll find Kensington Market. This has to arguably be one of my favorite places in all of Toronto. It’s a mix-up of virtually every kind of culture and it’s all reflected in the food. While there are cool stores and markets here the real sell is for sure the restaurants and Kensington Market is where I highly recommend you stop for lunch. You can get everything from Mexican Tacos to Caribbean Jerk Chicken to Dutch Fries to Swedish Pastries and Japanese Pancakes and so much more. I would recommend trying 2-3 places and ordering small plates instead of full sized dishes. A lot of the places are take out style so you won’t be wasting a lot of time. My personal recommendations are tacos from Seven Lives, the Vanilla Cardamom donuts from Dipped and a burger from Top Gun Steak & Burger.
After lunch it’s time to check out one of the more well known spots in Toronto in the form of a museum/gallery. Because you’ve only got 3 days in the city I think you have to pick either the Art Gallery of Ontario of the Royal Ontario Museum to enjoy in order to give either the justice it deserves. If art is your thing then the Art Gallery of Ontario is definitely where you want to go. The gallery has some stunning interior architecture and multiple levels worth of art to explore. They’ve also got rotating exhibitions that are worth checking out. You can check out their hours and ticket prices here. If history and classic museums are more your thing then you’re definitely going to want to head to the Royal Ontario Museum. Their ticket prices and hours can be found here.
Once you’ve finished with either the museum or the gallery, head on over to Queen’s Park to explore the St. George Campus of the University of Toronto. It’s got a very Harry Potter feel to it and it’s great to walk around because it’s so centrally located but is still somewhat of an oasis in the middle of the city.
End your day with checking out the more lit up spots of Toronto. The Eaton Centre is one of the biggest malls in the city with a number of great stores but you’re headed there to check out the great interior architecture of the mall and the statues within it. On either corner of the Eaton Centre you will find Nathan Phillips Square and Yonge-Dundas Square. Yonge-Dundas Square is essentially Toronto’s version of Times Square but obviously on the slightly smaller side. It’s worth passing by and the square often has events going on in the summer. Nathan Phillips Square is where you can find the giant Toronto sign that you absolutely have to get a picture with!
Day 2: Harbour Front & The Toronto Islands
Your second day in Toronto is where you get to visit some of the great and more well known landmarks of the city and you’ll get to enjoy one of the best parts of Toronto over at the islands.
St. Lawrence Market is a fantastic place to start your day. In 2012 it was voted the best market in the world by National Geographic and is constantly included in must visit markets! It’s a great place to grab something small for breakfast. The most well known item is the Peameal Bacon Sandwich from Carousel Bakery. It’s the one Anthony Bourdain had during his visit to Toronto and one he absolutely loved! Do note the bakery is cash only.
From St. Lawrence Market you will walk to Ripley’s Aquarium/CN Tower which will take about 20-25 minutes. This is of course a ride that you could take in an Uber but you’ll miss out on some nice landmarks if you do. While walking from St. Lawrence Market you’ll first come across the Gooderham Building which is Toronto’s flat-iron building and then you’ll pass the lovely dog fountain in Berczy Park before passing the Hockey Hall of Fame and Union Station.
Next on your list is the CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium. These two are located right next to each other (and right next to the Rogers Centre). They do both require tickets which you can check out here. If you are planning on visiting both attractions I’d highly recommend just getting the combination ticket for $58 dollars unless you’ve already gotten the CityPass (more on that below). Aquariums aren’t for everyone and that’s fine. If they aren’t your thing then before heading to the CN Tower area check out the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Financial District.
Either way once you’re satisfied with this area you’ll be heading to Harbour Front to explore the Harbour and grab some lunch! A must do is the Beaver Tails located right by the harbour but make sure to walk around and explore the parks and the beaches and of course all the sculptures and events going on before heading to the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal.
From the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal the Toronto Islands are only a 10-15 minute boat ride away. There are 3 islands that the boats go to but they’re all accessible and you can walk between all of them so it doesn’t really matter which one you go to. Once you’re on the island you’ll have plenty of things to do including paddle boarding, canoeing, an amusement park, multiple beaches and so much more! Even grabbing some food to go from one of the stores along the harbour and bringing it along as a picnic is a great way to explore the islands. Pro tip is to make sure to take a look at the Toronto skyline from the boat, it’s one of the best shots you’ll get of it!
Once you’re tired out from your adventures make sure to stay and watch the sunset around the harbour because you definitely won’t regret it! Head back to your hotel afterwards and grab dinner in the area you’re staying in.
Day 3: East End & Distillery District
The third day of your visit will be to explore the Distillery District and the east end of Toronto. Toronto is large like I said and if you’re up for it you should head to the Scarborough Bluffs which is about an hour commute from Union Station but if you’re not willing to go that far then Evergreen Brick Works is a nice alternative. It’ll take you about 35 minutes to get to Evergreen Brick Works using the subway and their shuttle.
Start your morning by grabbing some breakfast on the go from Tim Hortons for your commute. Regardless of whether you opt to go to the Bluffs or to the Brick Works you’ll be heading to the subway station to get there and it’s worth exploring Union Station before you do if that happens to be the area that you’re staying in. There’s a great food court and some nice shops and the original train hall is beautiful!
If you opt to go with the Scarborough Bluffs you definitely won’t regret it. It’s some of the most beautiful nature you can find within Toronto and the cliffs and beach will most likely blow you away. By visiting in the morning you’ll avoid some of the crowds of the afternoon and you’ll be able to walk around freely and explore as much as possible. There’s usually an ice cream truck around and there is also a restaurant if you want to grab some lunch but otherwise just exploring for a few hours before heading back downtown is also a great option!
The Evergreen Brick Works is a part of Toronto that many visitors don’t get to explore because they don’t know about it. It’s a great piece of Toronto history that’s now been re-purposed for use by everyday citizens. There’s a huge park/trail area behind it to explore but the Brick Works itself is also open to exploring and you can read about how they used to operate and even take a look inside of it! There’s some local businesses that operate out of Brick Works now and there’s typically some kind of event going on so it’s a great, way less known side of Toronto to explore on your last day in the city!
Depending on how strenuously you enjoy the nature at either the Bluffs or Brick Works you may want to head back to your hotel to freshen up for a little bit before we head to your last stop in Toronto which is the Distillery District.
The Distillery District is a pedestrian only area of Toronto that retains a lot of what Old Toronto used to be like. It’s full of cobble stoned alleyways, beautiful brick buildings and lots of public art installations. The area has a number of restaurants and independent shops to stroll through and if you decide to do dinner in the Distillery District I highly recommend El Catrin for some fantastic ambiance and great Mexican food. Make sure to take your time exploring the area. Pose for a picture with the Love Sign or place your own lock on the sign if you want to! The Distillery District is home to many festivals throughout the year so depending on when you’re visiting you may be able to partake in some festivities.
Where To Stay in Toronto
The obvious place to stay in Toronto would be in the downtown core but if it’s a little out of your price range I’d recommend staying anywhere along the subway line for quick access to downtown.
If you’ve got money to splurge the Fairmont Royal York (located right by Union Station) is highly recommended. Their location is unbeatable and their pool is lovely! We did a fantastic staycation there once and thoroughly enjoyed it. The location is pretty prime and it’ll give you quick access to transit.
A safe and tried method is obviously airbnb and you’ll find lots of options all around the city!
Tips for Visiting Toronto
Toronto can be quite an expensive city to visit but there are a ton of free things to do in Toronto and a fair amount of museums offer free admission so if you’re looking to visit them do check out when they’re free (typically Wednesday evenings!)
If you’ve got more than 3 days in Toronto then odds are you’ll be including the Toronto Zoo on your list in which case I’d consider the City Pass which includes the Toronto Zoo, the ROM, the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium and & Casa Loma.
Toronto’s got a number of cheap restaurants and while the fine dining scene is incredible you definitely can save a lot of money by eating cheaply.
Toronto’s beautiful in the summer and in my opinion it’s when you should visit. We’ve of course got plenty going on throughout the year but in the summer is when you’ll really be able to truly enjoy everything the city has to offer.
Because you’ve only got 3 days in Toronto, a lot of this itinerary is focused on the downtown core in order to minimize travelling. If you’re staying in the downtown core, the itinerary is designed in a way to minimize having to spend money on public transit so you don’t necessarily need to buy a day pass or anything for this. Toronto’s incredibly walkable and both Uber and Lyft are available in the city and super reasonably priced.
Author Bio: Liliane was born and raised in Sweden but moved to Toronto at age 13 and has been there ever since. She loves sharing information about Toronto and thinks everyone should visit at least once. She writes about her love for Toronto and her travels in general at My Toronto, My World. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
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